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Irish Expats Fly Home for Vote on Abortion

Protesters in Dublin in 2012 responded to the death of a woman who was refused an abortion at University Hospital Galway. (Wikimedia Commons)

Editor’s note: Referendum results being tallied Saturday indicated voters have overwhelmingly approved repealing Ireland’s 1983 constitutional ban on abortions.

Abortion has been illegal in Ireland since 1983, when its constitution was amended to equate an unborn child’s right to life with that of a pregnant mother’s. A historic referendum taking place Friday gives the country a chance to abolish the ban. Many Irish expatriates are flying home to vote to appeal the amendment and legalize abortion. As of Friday morning, the vote was still close after a tense campaign.

The vote concerns Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, known as the eighth amendment. The article brought on a near-total ban on abortion in Ireland, even in cases of rape and incest.

While the U.S. allows any citizen living abroad to cast an absentee ballot in the general and primary elections, the Irish system is much more strict. Irish citizens are not allowed to cast votes from abroad except in special circumstances—if they are diplomats or members of the military, for instance. Citizens who have lived abroad for more than 18 months aren’t allowed to vote.

The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign created the #HomeToVote campaign to mobilize Irish expats who are eligible to vote. The Irish Times estimates that 40,000 of the 750,000 Irish citizens abroad meet the criteria.

The Guardian reports:

Ruth Shaw and 20 of her family members and friends had flights lined up to a wedding in New York when the date was set for Ireland’s referendum on legalising abortion. None of them thought twice about what to do.

“We changed our flights,” said Shaw, who voted to lift a decades-old near-ban on abortion on Friday. “It’s really important, I’ve got two daughters.” At 6.55 am, she was waiting with Simi, nine, outside Our Lady’s Clonskeagh Parish secondary school, second in line to cast her vote before heading to the airport.

On a day of glorious sunshine and heightened emotion, polling stations across Ireland were reporting high turnout in a ballot that politicians and campaigners expect to settle the country’s position on abortion for at least a generation.

Indeed, Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, said that if the proposal to repeal the constitutional clause is defeated, it is likely to be at least 35 years before citizens get to vote on the matter again.

The Guardian provides additional social context for the vote:

Changes in social attitudes have been in lockstep with the declining influence of the Catholic church, once the dominant voice in Ireland and a crucial player in the drive to add an abortion ban to the constitution.

But revelations of sexual abuse and cover-up by priests in recent years have shaken Ireland’s faith in the church, and the internet and social media have challenged the authority of the pulpit.

Although 78% of the population still identified as Catholic in 2016, the proportion is significantly smaller among people under the age of 35. Between 1972 and 2011, weekly church attendance fell from 91% to 30%. In Dublin, it dropped to 14%.

Irish citizens are allowed to vote until 10 p.m. local time Friday. Some highlights from the #HomeToVote hashtag are below:

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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